LIBERAL — Colorado gubernatorial hopeful Dan Maes' murky past in Kansas law enforcement has become the latest distraction in his gaffe-ridden campaign.
Maes has claimed he was fired by the Liberal Police Department in the 1980s because police and politicians were corrupt, and he told supporters that he worked undercover for state investigators gathering information on a local bookmaking ring.
But the Kansas Bureau of Investigation denies Maes ever worked for it, and Liberal's police department won't talk about him.
His shadowy law enforcement resume is the latest distraction in a race in which Maes was fined for campaign finance violations and drew criticism over remarks that he would fire thousands of state workers.
Maes, who defeated former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis for the GOP nomination, had previously said he was fired from the Liberal Police Department because he got too close to higher-ups. In a letter to supporters in August he went further, saying he was placed undercover by the KBI to gather information inside a bookmaking ring that was allegedly selling drugs.
Maes later acknowledged he was involved — but not employed — by the KBI.
"I got too close to some significant people in the community who were involved in these activities and abruptly was dismissed from my position," Maes said in the letter that was briefly posted on his website and later removed.
Maes called it a chapter in his life "where I fought the machine." He refused to elaborate, saying that "many who were involved in this situation are still alive."
Bob Blecha, director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said there is no record of Maes working for the bureau or as an undercover agent. He said there was an investigation of bookmaking in Liberal at the time but "it was unsuccessful." Blecha refused to provide details because there was no prosecution.
Sheena Lynch, Liberal's city personnel director, confirmed that Maes worked for the police department from Sept. 21, 1983, to July 12, 1985, but refused to discuss the circumstances of his departure. Police Chief Alan Sill, who worked for the KBI until 1996, also refused to discuss Maes' performance.
Retired Police Chief Rick Kistner, who lives in Florida, said he doesn't remember Maes or any bookmaking probe.
In a story Wednesday, the Denver Post asked Maes about his claims of working undercover in Kansas — to which Maes responded that "those comments might have been incorrect comments." He didn't elaborate, but his spokesman, Nate Strauch, said Wednesday that Maes isn't backing off his account.
Strauch said that at the time, Maes had some information about a small-time gambling operation and worked with a pair of KBI agents on "two or three occasions." He confirmed Maes was never directly employed by the KBI.
Maes, a businessman from the Denver suburb of Evergreen, rode tea party support to defeat McInnis in the Colorado GOP Aug. 10 primary. He faces Democrat John Hickenlooper, who is Denver's mayor, and former Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, running on the American Constitution Party ticket, in the general election.